By Janeen Ellsworth
Who doesn’t love a good parade?
Earth. That’s who.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for a marching band. Clowns are freakishly hilarious. People on stilts, street acrobats, clown cars...they’re the best.
But parades are hotbeds for exactly the kind of garish waste and unnecessary pollution I spend my days campaigning against. They’re anything but green, and if we want to continue celebrating with community, we need to rethink how we put on parades so we can still enjoy them for another generation.
Unfortunately, we collectively shrug a big “oh, well” at traditional parade practices. But we have to stop accepting them simply because that’s the way things have always been. Instead, let’s say goodbye to what’s bad for the planet and create some new traditions.
Otherwise, we’re just as guilty as the next guy of proliferating over-consumption and anti-sustainable practices that fly in the face of everything we stand for.
Here are the Top 5 toxic parade traditions we need to kick to the curb, if we want to be green:
Here in Pittsburgh, the Department of Public Works does a phenomenal job cleaning up the path of human destruction left after a major event like yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
And yet, those shamrock stickers we were all wearing on our cheeks at 9 a.m., which fell off somewhere between Oliver and 4th Ave., will still be stuck to the bricks that line Grant Street six months from now. And the heaps of waste that were gathered all have to be deposited somewhere.
At Pittsburgh’s P.R.I.D.E. parade last year, companies like Lyft were doling out awesome canvas shopping bags. If more parade float organizers thought in these eco-friendly terms, our street festivities would be much cleaner.
#2: Exhaust Fumes
Says the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), diesel exhaust is carcinogenic to humans, meaning, “it contains significant levels of particulate matter (PM). These particles can lodge deep into the lungs and heart and are linked to premature death, aggravated asthma, and decreased lung function.”
It’s even more harmful to kids, like that troupe of Irish step dancers performing a reel behind that idling truck.
Moreover, according to this Department of Energy report, “…rest-period idling results in the emission of about 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, 55,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 400 tons of particulate matter annually in the U.S.”
Why not send trucks along the parade route first, and mandate that they’re not allowed to stop along the way. Or, could we do without the trucks altogether? Maybe the firemen could just, like, march on foot? Foot-powered, bicycle-powered, or horse-drawn vehicles only could pull the floats along instead, saving all of us from noxious fumes.
“Independent research on beads collected from New Orleans parades has found toxic levels of lead, bromine, arsenic, phthalate plasticizers, halogens, cadmium, chromium, mercury and chlorine on and inside the beads,” explains Redmon. “It’s estimated that up to 920,000 pounds of mixed chlorinated and brominated flame retardants were in the beads.”
As I’ve been harping on ad nauseum, heavy metals and flame retardants are making us sick. Since they’re all over parade beads, we need to stop using them, stat.
Check out Redmon’s film on the subject, and commit to never accepting another strand of these shiny suckers again.
"Six of the products were contaminated with nickel, cobalt and/or chromium which can cause lifelong skin problems," the report continues. "Many of the products contained two, three or even all four of these metals.”
Visit RaisingKidsNaturally.com for a list of nontoxic face paint brands you can buy to make sure you’re not exposing yourself or your kids to these dangerous, illness-causing metals.
#5: Silly String
Squirting a geyser of Silly String into the air never gets old. Unfortunately, it’s bad for us and for the environment.
According to this article by Katie M. Palmer at Wired.com, Silly String’s almost-secret list of ingredients includes:
So, 1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane is the gas that ejects the string from its can. America switched to this spray cocktail in the 1990s, replacing the really harmful ozone chlorofluorocarbon fumes from aerosol cans and refrigerants we used to use, which are now officially banned.
1,1,1,2-T is a half-decent improvement, although scientists with DuPont and Honeywell have created an even better-for-earth alternative they’re now putting into new cars’ AC units. For now, 1,1,1,2-T is still the go-to spray can product.
However, as Tracy V. Wilson over at HowStuffworks.com explains, Silly String that’s shipped to the U.S. from China and Taiwan, places that may or may not share the U.S.’s rules, may or may not be following the U.S.’s ban on those CFCs of yesteryear. Which means kids on parade floats could be launching toxic, ozone-blasting CFCs into the air instead of the somewhat-less-awul 1,1,1,2-T.
Polymerized plastic resins encompass a whole lotta chemicals, including bisphenol-A (BPA), widely accepted as a toxic ingredient that’s now being phased out of use, and ethyl acrylate, which, according to this article from DoItYourself.com, says, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified ethyl acrylate as a carcinogen, an agent that may cause cancer to human organisms.”
This resin gives Silly String the ability to harden when it hits the air, so it also causes pollution by gumming up sewers and sticking to streets, which makes it super annoying for Public Works crews who have to clean the stuff up.
Talc is another known cancer causer. Says Cancer.org, “..some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled.” Companies (like Johnson & Johnson) are being blamed in at least one lawsuit for knowing of its carcinogenic effects, not telling their customers about it, and still selling the stuff anyway.
Ammonia, while produced naturally by both humans and the environment, is also manufactured synthetically for cleaning products and, apparently, Silly String. Says HomeQuicks.com, “Once inhaled, ammonia immediately interacts with moisture in the mucus to form caustic ammonium hydroxide. As a result, inhalation of ammonia vapors may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, throat, and respiratory tract.” It can worsen asthma symptoms, and it’s really bad for soil, fresh water and fish populations.
By Janeen Ellsworth
Thanks to the awesome folks we met at Harrison Hills County Park this past weekend, we've been inspired to try maple syrup making on our own!
Scroll down for the 10 fairly-simple steps we followed to make small-batch maple syrup (and how we're continuing to do so). Keep in mind this is a loooooong, energy-intensive process but so-so-so fun and great for the whole family! And March is the perfect time of year to do this, with the sunny days and frigid nights, the sugar maples are drawing liquid up from the ground through their vascular systems all the way to the tips of their buds, and then draining the sap back to the ground in the evenings. That's when the sap comes gushing, and that's when you can capture the glorious bounty of nature!
Here's a quick video to say thanks to our new pals, the Friends of Harrison Hills, who got us started on this wonderful late-winter journey! Thanks, Susan, Dennis, Eric and Sandra!
Helpful Resources to Review Before Attempting to Make Maple Syrup:
University of Vermont - Research-based info on everything you need to know about trees before you tap.
Tap My Trees - Tips and guides on how to do it and what supplies you'll need, from Canadians!
River Ridge Products Kit - All the supplies you need to make syrup at home.
10 Fairly Easy Steps to DIY 100% Natural Maple Syrup
Pictured above-right is my very first ever batch of DIY syrup, a mere 2 ounces of the stuff harvested from 1 whole gallon of sap. It's a little cloudy, but has a delicious buttery flavor that goes great on the kids' morning waffles. I love that it's pure and local, straight from a nearby park, and totally organic.
In between writing sessions I'm back at the boiling process again today, with another 3+ gallons we pulled from a second tree, so hopefully I'll be getting more syrup and it will be clear amber like nature--and our friends at Harrison Hills--intended!
Thanks, Mother Earth, glorious trees, and everyone who helped us in this process!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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